King’s death a chance to heal the pain of our undeclared civil war
In SA the focus has been mostly on fostering forgiveness between black and white, following the terrible violence meted out by the white-minority apartheid state and its associated businesses, civil society organisations and individuals on blacks. But rarely have there been attempts to promote forgiveness between blacks who suffered violence from other blacks during apartheid.
King Goodwill Zwelithini’s death brought into sharp focus the thorny issue of forgiveness between blacks who were at the receiving end of violence from other blacks. Loathing or veneration of the late king of the amaZulu depended on which side of the political struggle one, or one’s family, relatives and comrades, had been in the deadly struggle in KwaZulu-Natal in the 1980s between supporters of the United Democratic Front/ANC/Cosatu and the Inkatha Freedom Party.
The IFP was backed by the National Party and allied apartheid security forces. King Zwelithini was the patron of the IFP. The struggle between the ANC/UDF alliance and the IFP/National Party government alliance was one of the defining events of my generation. Friendship, trust and credibility were and still are bestowed according to which side of that epic battle a person was on.
Whether King Zwelithini was used by then IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, which I as a youth “comrade” strongly believed at the time, or whether the king was simply naïve or genuinely imagined that the only way to safeguard the future of the monarchy was to seek protection from the IFP, will now, following his death, never be fully explained.
An emotional Nelson Mandela, after his release from prison on February 25 1990 at a rally at Kings Park Stadium in Durban, called the unofficial civil war in KwaZuluNatal “a battle of brother against brother”. He exclaimed: “Take your guns, your knives and your pangas, and throw them into the sea. Close down the death factories. End this war now!”
There was anger from many of my generation who were part of the youth structures of the UDF/ANC/Cosatu alliance. I remember how astonished I was that Mandela proposed reconciliation, believing that he surely must have “sold out” to the “enemy”, the apartheid government, as a condition for his release from prison. There could be no other reason for him to propose reconciliation with the IFP.
Putting aside the merits of which side was right or wrong, thousands died, were maimed and lost assets. For the living, the trauma remains, embedding their bodies, souls and minds, and influencing the present, still determining personal, intimate and political decisions.
The king’s passing is perhaps the moment to pursue forgiveness from both sides of the battle between the UDF/ANC/Cosatu and the IFP. At an individual level, his death could be an opportunity for radical forgiveness on both sides.
This would not mean condoning violence against oneself and one’s family and comrades; neither would it mean accepting the behaviour of the perpetrators. It would also not mean forgetting the violence meted out against oneself.
Forgiveness certainly does not mean accepting, becoming friends with or reconciling with former perpetrators, opponents or “enemies”. Ryan Howes, a US-based psychologist, says you can forgive someone who does not apologise, though an apology from the wrongdoer does make forgiveness easier.
Forgiveness is also not accepting the harm done to oneself. Forgiveness, says Rubin Khoddam, another psychologist, “is choosing to accept what happened as it happened rather than what could or should have happened”.
Forgiveness is not being weak. Forgiveness is hard. It demands inner strength. In my own life, I have now accepted that forgiveness and letting go, as hard as they may be, are crucial for my own personal wellbeing, health and mental state. Forgiveness is an antidote to remaining stuck in victimisation mode.
A truth and reconciliation commission specifically for the unofficial civil war in KwaZuluNatal of the late 1970s to the early ’90s should be considered. This would be to bring the truth out, to acknowledge the terrible things that happened, and for people to be able to tell their stories — whether as victims or perpetrators.
There has to be some kind of reparation. Where possible, there have to be prosecutions of perpetrators. Remembrance monuments, events and ceremonies should be introduced to remember the dead. Properties forcefully taken should be returned.
Disband the Ingonyama Trust, a corporate entity established during the transition from apartheid to democracy to supposedly administer the land traditionally owned by the amaZulu community. Communal land should be given to individual families occupying it and to everyone from the community, as part of a package of reparations.
It would help if the leaders of the ANC, IFP — and the royal house also, since the king is now dead — apologised for what has happened.